Lebensohl Convention (after partner opens 1NT)

This popular convention is used after partner opens 1NT and your RHO overcalls a suit. If you bid 2NT in this position, it's Lebensohl, which asks opener to bid 3C. You can then describe one of several different types of responding hands:

When you play Lebensohl, you give up the use of 2NT as a natural notrump invitation. This is not much of a sacrifice, as when you hold this type of hand -- 8-9 pts. and a stopper in their suit -- you can, and usually should, show it with a penalty double. 

If you've agreed to use the Lebensohl 2NT, here are the meanings of your bids as responder after:

Partner    RHO    You
   1NT         2H        ?       

Double = Penalty

2S = Signoff, showing a 5+-card suit and no interest in game (fewer than 7-8 pts., assuming a 15-17 notrump  range)

2NT = Lebensohl convention (relays partner to 3C)

3C, 3D, 3S = Forcing, showing a 5+-card suit and game values (8-9+ pts.). This is "standard" Lebensohl. A more useful treatment is to play non-jump bids in minors as constructive and invitational, but not forcing.

3H (cuebid of their suit) = Stayman (promising 4 cards in the other major) with game values and no stopper in their suit.

3NT = Game values, no 4-card spade suit, no stopper in their suit.

4D/4H = Texas transfer, 6+-card suit with game values.

Memory aids:

  The slow auction (bidding 2NT first, then rebidding 3NT or cuebidding their suit) shows a stopper.
"Slow shows" or SAGS ("Slow Auction Guarantees Stopper")

  The direct (fast) auction (an immediate cuebid or jump to 3NT) denies a stopper.
: "Direct denies" or DADS ("Direct Auction Denies Stopper").

Responder's rebids

If your first bid was 2NT, partner (the 1NT opener) will bid 3C. You can then bid:

Pass = 5+ clubs, no interest in game.

3D = 5+ diamonds, no interest in game.

3H (cuebid of their suit) = Stayman (promising 4 spades) and game values with a stopper in their suit

3S = 5+ spades and invitational values.

3NT = Game values, no 4-card major, with a stopper in their suit

If your first bid denied a stopper (direct cuebid or jump to 3NT):

Over your cuebid (Stayman), opener will bid a 4-card major if he has one. If he has no 4-card major but does have a stopper in their suit, he'll bid 3NT. With no 4-card major and no stopper, he'll run to his cheapest 4+-card suit. You can then pass, raise to game or bid your cheapest 4+-card suit if you don't have a fit for the suit partner bid.

Over your jump to 3NT, opener will pass if he has a stopper. If he does not have a stopper, he'll bid 4 of his cheapest 4+-card suit (as above).

Summary: Showing long suits
If you have a 5+-card major that's higher in rank than the overcall (RHO bids 2H and you have spades), you can show three different hand strengths:

Signoff (weak but competitive) -- Bid your suit at the 2-level (1NT - [2D] - 2H or 2S)

Invitational -- Go through Lebensohl (1NT- [2H] - 2NT - 3C - 3S)

Forcing -- Jump directly to 3 of your suit (1NT - [2D] - 3H or 3S)

If you have a 5+-card minor that's lower in rank than the overcall, you can show three different strengths:

Signoff -- Go through Lebensohl (1NT - [2S] - 2NT - 3C - Pass or 3D)

Invitational -- Bid 3 of your suit (1NT - [2S] - 3C or 3S). This is constructive but not forcing. It neither shows nor denies a stopper.

Forcing -- Treat it as a notrump hand. Go through Lebensohl to show a stopper (1NT - [2S] - 2NT - 3C - 3NT) or jump directly to 3NT to deny a stopper (1NT - [2S] - 3NT).

If you have a 5+-card major that's lower in rank than the overcall (RHO bids 2S and you have hearts), there is no invitational sequence available. With borderline hands, you'll have to decide whether you want to force to game (bid a  direct 3H) or sign off at the 3-level (go through Lebensohl -- 1NT-2S-2NT-3C-3H). The signoff sequence tends to show values, though, so partner is allowed to raise to 4H if he has a maximum and a good heart fit.

Lebensohl after a 2C overcall

Lebensohl is most valuable over the opponent's overcall of 2D, 2H or 2S. If your RHO bids a natural 2C, Lebensohl offers you no way to ask for a 4-card major and show or deny a stopper. After 1NT - [2C] - 2NT, partner's 3C bid takes away your 3-level cuebid, so there's not much point in using Lebensohl when you hold a 4-card major.

One solution is to give up the penalty double of 2C and play double as Stayman, with all other bids "system on". If you have a game-forcing hand, you can use two forms of Stayman to show or deny stoppers:

Game values, 4-card major, with a club stopper -- Double, then 3NT  (1NT - [2C] - DBL - 2D/2H/2S - 3NT) ("Slow shows").

Game values, 4-card major, no stopper  -- Direct cuebid (1NT - [2C] - 3C) ("Direct denies").

If you have invitational values with a 4-card major, it's more difficult to show or deny stoppers because you cannot afford to go past 2NT. Here's a set of agreements that can be useful in some auctions:

Invitational, one or both 4-card majors, with a stopper = Double, then 2NT if partner does not bid your suit.

Invitational, 4 spades, no stopper = Double, then bid 2S if partner rebids 2D or 2H. If opener has a club stopper, he'll rebid 2NT with a minimum (which you should pass) or 3NT with a maximum. If he has no stopper and 3 spades, he can pass 2S with a minimum, or bid 3S with a maximum and a hand that wants to try for game in the 4-3 fit. In the worst case -- opener has a doubleton spade and no stopper in their suit -- he'll have to scramble to 3 of another suit or a stopper-less 2NT.

Invitational, 4 hearts or both majors, no stopper = Double, then bid 2H if partner rebids 2D. If opener has a club stopper, he'll rebid 2NT or 3NT to show his strength. If he has no stopper, he can pass 2H (with 3-card heart support) or scramble to 2S (if he holds 2 hearts and 3 spades).

Note: If partner responds 2S to your Stayman double and your only 4-card major is hearts, you cannot give him information about stoppers. You'll have to follow with 2NT, which neither confirms nor denies a stopper.

After a 2C overcall, responder can still use Lebensohl sequences to describe hands without 4-card majors:

Game values, no major, with a stopper -- Lebensohl, then 3NT  (1NT - [2C] - 2NT - 3C - 3NT).

Game values, no major, no stopper -- Bid a direct 3NT.

Game values, 5+-card suit -- Jump to 3 of your suit.

Invitational hand with a 5+-card suit -- Lebensohl, then bid your suit (1NT - [2C] - 2NT - 3C - 3D, 3H, 3S).

Lebensohl after a conventional overcall

You can also use Lebensohl treatments after RHO makes an artificial or two-suited overcall. If RHO makes a bid that shows:

Two known suits:  Your Lebensohl stopper auction revolves around his known suit. For example, if the overcall is a Cappelletti 2H (hearts and a minor), treat it as a "regular" 2H overcall. Your stopper-showing and stopper-denying auctions will focus on hearts.

Two specific suits:  You can still use the Lebensohl 2NT to sign off at the 3-level, but the 3-level stopper-showing sequences do not apply. If you have game values, use bids of RHO's suits to identify stoppers. For example, if the overcall showed both majors (Landy 2D or DONT 2H), you can bid 2H to show a heart stopper. 2S would show a spade stopper but no heart stopper. 3NT promises stoppers in both suits. If you have a penalty-oriented hand, you can double.

An unspecified one-suiter (artificial double):  Redouble is penalty, showing invitational-or-better values and an interest in doubling their runout suit. All other bids are "system on" -- 2C is Stayman, 2D and 2H are transfers, etc.

An unspecified one-suiter (2C):  Double is Stayman. All other bids are "system on".

Copyright   Karen Walker